Venice – a city that beguiles and draws you into its long arms until you never want to leave.
One feels like they are in a delusion, stuck in a time warp, in a place where there are no streets, no cars. Only sidewalks along canals, like a theater set where even the street lamps and window frames are pretty.
As you walk along its winding canals, every turn holds a different view. With buildings more than centuries old and sights a plenty that take your breath away you don’t want to miss a single thing wandering through the annals of this grand façade.
The areas around the Rialto bridge and San Marco hold enough beauty on their own, but one must wander away and into the other sestieres to get the full gist of Venice. Stepping off at a random stop near Castello or Cannaregio will bring you to deserted squares and quiet corners near canals. It’s like claiming your very own piece of Venice and feeling her resounding beat.
St. Mark’s Square has the cathedral and Dogee’s palace and views of the Grand Canal, but it is also teeming with tourists at all times of the day. Many of these are day trippers, stopping over for a click with the pigeons and a look through the cathedral before they move on. They see a glimpse of this magnificent city but not everything hiding under its many layers.
One’s experience of Venice is definitely incomplete when viewed from land alone. Gondolas and the Vaporetto (Venice’s water bus system) No. 1 takes you through the Grand Canal. The views on the vaporetto don’t come unencumbered compared to those from a gondola but it is a worthy option if you are not willing to shell out the big bucks or think it’s too cliched.
Most restaurants around this area cater blatantly to tourists with large sized menus printed in six common languages and almost the same offerings everywhere. I say blatantly because elsewhere in Venice restaurants also cater mostly to tourists, since Venice itself exists mainly for tourists. The cost of living in Venice is so high – with the taxes and costs of maintenance of the buildings constantly eroded by the salt sea air that most people have moved out into the mainland around Venice.
Travel guides usually advise you that looking for addresses in Venice is a pain. So if one is staying at a B&B or a smaller hotel, they should print a map beforehand with written instructions from the vaporetto stop they will be walking from.
Although I took with me many lists of recommended restaurants, we only ever attempted to look up one for lunch and chanced upon another for dinner. We were in the same sestiere as the aforementioned restaurant and attempted the feat of locating this place. We asked for directions at least 5 times and they sounded something like ‘take a right after the second bridge, then keep walking and take the third left near the big red building’. By the time you got to the third left or right you were confused again as the lane had wounded in a different direction. When we did finally make it, we were greeted with the freshest pasta at Alfredo’s Fresh Pasta to go.
When you have had your fill of wandering through Venice, take a break and head to the islands of Murano and Burano – tiny outliers of Venice. They are even more touristic as you will find their single town square and sidewalks filled with overpriced souvenir shops and restaurants but offer a slightly different landscape from Venice. Burano is the prettier of the two with row upon row of vividly colored houses. It is said that the fishermen who originally occupied this island painted their houses in bright colors to find their way back home easily. Another theory is that the government at the time dictated the color you had to paint your house.
The weather took a turn for the worse while we were in Venice, dropping to temperatures 15 degrees cooler than it usually is in the summer and became windy and rainy. We deflected this by layering up and downing cup upon cup of espresso. The rain turned the landscape even more magical as everything glistened in the aftermath and people deftly passed each other trying to avoid their umbrellas from colliding.
In conversation with a girl who was Venetian (because of course the citizens of Venice deem themselves too special to be called Italian!) stayed in Venice for three years while she studied arts and language there. Making a move to the mainland, she mentioned that she felt that life in Venice was unreal – there were no cars, people walked everywhere and one was surrounded by tourists all year round. She was getting used to her commute from Mestre but felt that she had stepped into the real world.
This preference of people born or living in Venice to being addressed as Venetians rather than Italians stems from history. Venice was a maritime power of Europe, the only such center of its kind that owned ships and an equivalent of the modern day navy. Consequently, they also controlled trade routes. It was occupied by the most affluent of merchants and a lot of wealth flowed through here, some of which can be seen till today in the opulence of the palaces along the Grand Canal.
Although this was my second time visiting Venice I was drawn in more rather than getting that bored swat of having been there, done that and seen everything worth seeing. On my first visit, I was one of those flighty day trippers happy to see the pigeons at St. Mark’s square, take a gondola ride, see a glassblowing workshop and sum it up as my vision of Venice. I was also the teenager who begged my dad to please take the gondolier back home and give him a job!
This time, wandering idly through the sidewalks was a magical experience.
As we bid adieu, like an aristocratic lady she tosses her head and surveys her splendor and leaves you wanting for more as you depart its shores wanting to linger just a little bit longer.